Sometimes a standout performance in the Penn State’s annual Blue-White Game can be a precursor of what is to come.
A year ago, for instance,Trace McSorley completed 23 of his 27 passes, throwing four touchdowns compared to just one interception. In preseason camp he went on to claim the starting quarterback position before becoming one of the most efficiently explosive passers in college football last fall, helping lead the Nittany Lions to a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl berth.
Sometimes, however, the MVP of the spring scrimmage rises from the depths of the roster. It can be a precious opportunity for reserve players or walk-ons to showcase themselves in front of Beaver Stadium, just as running back Cole Chiappialle did in 2013 when he rushed for a game-high 80 yards and two touchdowns. Chiappialle is now entering his senior season at Shippensburg, where he was an all-conference performer last season both at running back and as a return specialist.
Who will shine this year as the Blue is set to take on the White in Beaver Stadium Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m.? Blue White Illustrated’s staff members make their picks, both on offense and on defense, below.
Nate Bauer - Blue White Illustrated Editor
Offense - What are the odds that Mike Gesicki takes a single rep on Saturday? In my mind, not very good, which opens the door to a guy who has been talked about throughout the spring in Jon Holland. Clearly, given Gesicki's breakout last season and the expectations that follow him into his final go 'round with the Nittany Lions, there's really not much chance of Holland or any of Penn State's other tight ends matching or exceeding his production this season.
That doesn't mean he can't be a useful and needed addition to Penn State's offensive arsenal this year, though. If Penn State's program philosophy is creating maximum performance by resting starters when necessary in the course of the game, Holland is now on track to be that first fill-in when Gesicki needs a breather. Saturday afternoon, I think we'll see the manifestation of that opportunity for the redshirt sophomore tight end.
Defense - We’ve been hearing about Jarvis Miller’s transition from safety to linebacker all spring, and finally Saturday we’ll have an opportunity to see what it looks like. After the departures of Nyeem Wartman-White and Brandon Bell, the position group is one that is going to feature plenty of younger faces around veteran Jason Cabinda this season, and Miller figures to be one of them.
Seeing how he performs Saturday as that hybrid Sam behind Koa Farmer will go a long way toward understanding how close he is to being ready to fill that role.
Tim Owen - Blue White Illustrated Assistant Editor
Offense - A year ago in the spring scrimmage, it was Andre Robinson had the longest run of the game, a 28-yarder that went for the Blue team’s only rushing touchdown. He later switched to the white squad for the final portions of the game and finished with a total 45 yards on the ground, second only to position-mate Mark Allen who had a game-high 59 rushing yards with an additional 29 yards through the air. This year, it’s Robinson’s turn to lead the charge. With star running back Saquon Barkley likely to be held out due to precautionary reasons and with the questionable status of Miles Sanders, it appears that Robinson, Allen, Jonathan Thomas, Josh McPherson and Nick Eury will be relied on to handle the load. One of those five will have a breakout performance, and I’m picking Robinson to be that guy.
Defense - With Penn State having to replace both of its starters at defensive end, and with James Franklin stating this week that the battle to replace them is far from over, I’m expecting the defensive ends to play with a little extra fire Saturday afternoon. Last year it was Colin Castagna who led the defense, totaling six tackle, three of which went for a loss, and a sack. He’s a strong MVP candidate this year as well, along with redshirt freshmen like Shane Simmons and Shaka Toney, but the guy I’m unable to overlook is Shareef Miller. He had one TFL in this game last year before going on to appear in all 14 games as a redshirt freshman. With that experience, along with the reviews that have surrounded him this spring, I’m forecasting that Miller will turn it up a couple notches Saturday, bring consistent pressure on the quarterback and establish himself as a leading candidate for a starter’s spot at DE this fall.
Ryan Snyder - Blue White Illustrated Recruiting Analyst
Offense - It's going to take more than one person to replicate everything that Chris Godwin did for this offense in 2016, but if there's one receiver that's consistently grabbed the attention of both his teammates and coaches this spring, it's redshirt sophomore Juwan Johnson. Just a few weeks ago, head coach James Franklin said that Johnson has "made a significant jump from the end of the season to now." Tight end Mike Gesicki added his opinion, noting that it's "almost a gimme" that Johnson is going to come down with the ball from the way he's been working this spring. With so much talent in this year's receiving corps, it's not hard to imagine that Penn State could actually improve on its passing game in Joe Moorhead's second year. If they're going to do that, the 6-foot-4, 218 pound New Jersey native is going to have a major impact.
Defense - The injury to cornerback John Reid appears to be the only major blow to Penn State this spring, but if there's one positive to come out of the situation, it's the fact that freshman cornerback Lamont Wade has been excellent during camp. The Nittany Lions have been able to develop some depth in their secondary over the past year, but Wade has already proven that he's a class above most others. Make no mistake, Reid will be a major loss for this defense, but with a solid group of experienced players around him, this may end up being the perfect year to get Wade's feet wet. I think we'll get a taste of that on Saturday.